BOONE, N.C. — Four members of the Appalachian State University and local community, along with one regional team, were honored with the university’s 2023 Inclusive Excellence Awards during a luncheon held April 26 in the Grandview Ballroom of Kidd Brewer Stadium’s north end zone facility.
These awards — established in 2020 — are designed to shine a light on individuals at App State and in the community whose work demonstrates their active, intentional and ongoing commitment to inclusive excellence.
This year’s awards winners:
- Caitlin Langley — Inclusive Excellence for Students Award.
- IlaSahai Prouty — Inclusive Excellence for Faculty/Staff Award.
- Blue Bear Bus Summer Team — Inclusive Excellence in the Community Award.
- Naomi and Lucero Escobar Jaramillo — Inclusive Excellence for Youth Award.
“It is important for us to remember that achieving inclusive excellence at App State is the responsibility of every one of us,” said App State Chief Diversity Officer Jamie Parson. “I hope that you draw inspiration from our award winners — so that their examples inspire you to consider what you can do to make App State, our community and our world more welcoming and inclusive of all kinds of people.”
Approximately 150 individuals attended the luncheon, including App State faculty, staff and students, as well as community and civic leaders from Boone and Hickory, and students, teachers and principals from App State’s Academy at Middle Fork and Academy at Elkin.
MaKaylia Ray, of Hope Mills, a senior communications sciences and disorders major and Beaver Scholar in the Beaver College of Health Sciences, introduced the event’s keynote speaker — Dr. Sharon Contreras, chief executive officer of The Innovation Project, a nonprofit that brings together North Carolina school district superintendents to find and implement innovative practices in public education so that students and their communities can thrive.
Contreras “has been described as a teacher at heart, a passionate advocate and a warrior for equity,” Ray shared.
Parson was joined by Lamont Sellers, director of intercultural student affairs at App State, in presenting the recipients with their awards.
App State’s Gospel Choir led the audience in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the Black national anthem, and performed the song “Release” to close out the awards presentation.
The luncheon was presented by App State’s Office of the Chancellor and Office of Diversity. A selection committee composed of faculty, staff and a student vetted the nominees and put forth recommendations for this year’s awardees.
Keep reading to learn about the 2023 Inclusive Excellence Awards winners.
About the award winners
Inclusive Excellence for Students Award
Caitlin Langley, a junior from Prospect Hill, came to App State in 2018, after serving in the United States Army Reserve as a horizontal construction engineer and heavy equipment operator. A first-generation college student, Langley is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in sustainable development.
Langley works as a student assistant in App State’s Major General Edward M. Reeder Jr. Student Veteran Resource Center, where she advocates for other students and strives to make everyone feel welcome in the space. She also serves as the first female president of the university’s Student Veterans Association and has organized numerous community-building events to recruit a wider number of veterans, including women, to get involved in the center’s activities.
She also participates in and leads a wide variety of outreach, including visiting App State’s lab schools and collaborating with Boone’s Hunger and Health Coalition to ensure Watauga County residents have enough firewood to heat their homes throughout the winter.
Inclusive Excellence for Faculty/Staff Award
IlaSahai Prouty, an associate professor in App State’s Department of Art, received the 2023 Inclusive Excellence Award for Faculty/Staff.
Prouty has made significant contributions to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on App State’s Boone campus by developing and teaching two classes: Art for Social Change and Socially Engaged Art. These courses foster students’ understanding of contemporary social issues and how art can advance social justice, ensuring students engage with and understand concepts such as implicit bias, microaggressions and privilege.
In addition to these classes, Prouty has created socially engaged public artworks and experiences, including a recent one at the Cone Women’s Medical Center in Greensboro.
She helped create App State’s creative engagement and social change minor, offered through the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, and she was a member of the university’s Inclusive Teaching Lab and the Inclusive Teaching Team in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for Student Success.
Inclusive Excellence in the Community Award
Blue Bear Bus Summer Team
The Blue Bear Bus of Mount Airy City Schools (MACS) is a refurbished school bus that serves as a mobile classroom for science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) classes. The BBB, as it is affectionately known, first rolled into the five Mount Airy Housing Authority neighborhoods during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each week, the team provided families with first-hand experience of how teachers and instructional support staff work with students. They modeled the read-aloud process, along with questioning techniques to support increased comprehension, critical thinking activities, physical fitness games and strategies to promote engagement through speaking and listening conversation.
In the words of a nominator, the BBB program played a critical role in fulfilling one of MACS’ most important goals: “… to provide equitable access to resources for all students, regardless of their neighborhood, ethnicity, native language, socio-economic status or any other factor.”
Inclusive Excellence for Youth Award
Naomi and Lucero Escobar Jaramillo
Watauga High School students Naomi and Lucero Escobar Jaramillo have been actively involved in promoting social justice and celebrating diversity in their community for many years.
The sisters participate in the Immigrant Justice Coalition in Boone, through which they have helped organize Faith-Action ID Drives, the Pasaporte al Mundo Latino cultural event and community solidarity potlucks. They also are members of the Las Rosas y El Clavel dance troupe, which introduces this important element of their Mexican heritage to North Carolina’s High Country.
Most recently, they were instrumental in forming a new club at Watauga High called Manos Unidas, or Hands United, which seeks to provide an affirming place for Latine students to celebrate their culture and give back to their community. This spring, Manos Unidas partnered with community organizations to help conduct a needs assessment at the Hunger and Health Coalition focused on housing needs.
Insights on authentic leadership, protecting hope
In her keynote address, Contreras spoke on the importance of authentic leadership and maintaining one’s hope when working to create “positive, substantive change both individually and collectively,” she said.
“Leadership requires being authentic in your position or in your leadership endeavors, embracing and leaning into who you are,” she said. “Leverage your own uniqueness, your own talents, your skills and strengths and lead from there. As you lead from there, maintain hope.”
Contreras shared four actions people should take when working to effect change, borrowed from “Just Mercy” author Bryan Stevenson:
- No. 1: — Stay proximate to the problem and close to the people you’re trying to help. “You have to be close to the problem in order to solve it. You have to get to know the issues,” she said.
- No. 2 — Change the narrative about the problem that you’re trying to solve. Contreras gave an example of how alcoholism is often discussed as a criminal problem rather than a disease; when it is described as a health issue, the narrative about the people who suffer from alcoholism changes, she said.
- No. 3 — Do things that are uncomfortable and inconvenient. “I don’t know of any change that has ever occurred in human history where everybody felt comfortable,” Contreras shared. “You’re going to be uncomfortable if you are pushing for real change.”
- No. 4 — Protect your hope at all costs. “Protect your hope because where there is no hope there is generally an absence of justice as well. Hope is foundational to change,” said Contreras.
In closing, Contreras urged attendees to “continue to rise to the occasion, considering the great opportunities for a more inclusive and just world, and realize that it lies right before us if we’re willing to lead and we’re willing to maintain hope.”
What do you think?
Share your feedback on this story.
About Diversity and Inclusion at Appalachian
Appalachian State University is committed to developing and allocating resources to the fundamental task of creating a diverse campus culture. We value diversity as the expression of human similarities and differences, as well as the importance of a living and learning environment conducive to knowledge, respect, acceptance, understanding and global awareness. Learn more at http://diversity.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives. App State is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, with a national reputation for innovative teaching and opening access to a high-quality, affordable education for all. The university enrolls more than 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and 80 graduate majors at its Boone and Hickory campuses and through App State Online. Learn more at https://www.appstate.edu.